Early & Silent Film

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‘The cosiest Picture House in Leeds’

Posted by keith1942 on March 13, 2016

This illustration is from the printed history of the Hyde Park Picture House published by the Friends in 1997.

This illustration is from the printed history of the Hyde Park Picture House published by the Friends in 1997.

The Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds celebrated its centenary in 2014, opening in November 1914. During the centenary year a relative of Leeds resident and business man Harry Childs, who was involved in the opening and running of the Hyde Park Picture House, donated a set of ‘Log Books’ that start with the opening of the cinema and carry on until the 1950s. The books record the daily performances, ticket sales in different price categories and the daily and weekly income. You can imagine that there are lots of figures to be analysed. The performances and prices are shown in the above advertisement from the Yorkshire Evening News.

It is not clear how seats and customers were demarcated, perhaps the 1s seats were in the balcony. The bulk of the customers fell into the 3d and 6d price range.

Firstly, the capacity of a standard rectangular theatre was increased by using a balcony .. [which] … allowed an astounding 587 people to be crammed in. [Since the 1980s the seating has been reduced to 350].

The records in 1914 offer no information about the films screened. However from early in 1915 the title of the feature is usually recorded in the margin. The norm appears to be two programmes a week, one from Monday to Wednesday and one from Thursday to Saturday. This is done briefly, so it is not always possible to identify the film: and about two thirds of titles from this period have been lost. However there are also other sources.

Whilst a record of the complete programme for the first week of November does not survive, we know that the main featured was billed as Their Only Son ‘a patriotic drama’. Released in October 1914 by Barker Motion Photography Ltd, the film comprised two reels – 2,650 feet. It probably lasted 44 minutes. No copy appears to have survived.

Their only son

Barker Ltd was one of seven major production companies in the UK at that time. The Managing Director, W. G. Barker, had started out with the Warwick Trading Company and set up his own company in 1909. The firm built the first studio at Ealing. Their output included theatrical adaptations, but also ‘Topicals’. The films were also noted for the frequent use of location shooting.

The film was directed by Bert Haldane from a story by Rowland Talbot. The film starred two actors who worked regularly for Barker – Thomas H. MacDonald and Blanche Forsythe [‘a plump, demure English girl.] This quartet all worked together again on a major production by Barker Ltd in 1915, Jane Shore, a six-reel film set during the Wars of the Roses. The company were relatively successful during the war years with a number of patriotic dramas set during the current conflict or earlier wars that probably offered some sort of parallel.

Apparently the plot involved a son who falls out with his father when he volunteers for the army and becomes a dispatch rider. Wounded, he is nursed back to health by his ex-wife, [fittingly following the literary tradition of remarkable coincidence]. Presumably the film ended with husband and wife and father and son reconciled.

The programme would have included a number of short supporting films, rather like those in the bfi’s A Night in the Cinema in 1914. The early records do not seem to provide any indication of the accompaniment for these films without soundtracks. The likeliest option would have been a solo piano providing a musical accompaniment rather like that used for the silent films re-screened in more recent times.

It seems that the film in the second part of the week was An Englishman’s Home (1914) another lost film. The film was adapted from a play by Guy du Maurier. it was produced by the British and Colonial Kinematograph Company. The company produced over 300 films between 1908 and 1924. At the time of this production it was based at a studio in Walthamstow.

The film itself was approximately 2,200 feet in length [two reels] and probably lasted about 35 minutes. The director was Ernest Batley who had 47 credits between 1910 and 1919, both as an actor and director. He and his wife, Dorothy, played the two leads along with George Foley. The latter appears to have played regular supporting roles in this period. The only indication of the plot is the following:

A pacifist reforms after foreign invaders occupy his house and kill his son.

Clearly the opening week of the Hyde Park Picture House was a very patriotic one.

Purpose built cinemas like the Hyde Park were relatively new. Leeds first proper cinema had opened in 1905. The nearby Cottage Road cinema in Headingly opened in 1913. Purpose built cinemas both standardised film programmes and presentations and altered the composition of the audience. Early films were predominately a working class entertainment. By the teens of the last century middle class patrons were increasing in number. Leeds saw increasing competition in the period for audiences, though audiences themselves were increasing. On its opening night the Picture House attracted 425 paying customers: on the first Saturday the figure was 681. The first house in the evening seems to have been the most popular.

HPPH cover

‘The Cosiest Picture House In Leeds’, A History of the Hyde Park Picture House 1997. [Supported by Leeds City Council Leisure Services]. Written by Penny McKnight, Edited by Judith Weymont with Photographs by Mandy Wragg. Produced by The Friends of the Hyde Park Picture House.

The Log Books will join the other archive materials of the Picture House which are kept in the Grand Theatre Archive at The West Yorkshire Archive Service. This unfortunately has moved from the convenient Sheepscar venue, near the city centre, right down to Morley, a long bus journey. There is an online Catalogue.




One Response to “‘The cosiest Picture House in Leeds’”

  1. […] ‘The cosiest Picture House in Leeds’ […]

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